The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra

Boer War Day 2021

By Peter Wilmot, President, Boer War Association Victoria

On a glorious Melbourne winter's day, the Victorian Boer War Day service was conducted on Sunday 27 June 2021. For the Australians and New Zealanders who fought in the Boer War, it honoured those who did not come home.

More than 23,000 Australian nurses and soldiers served alongside New Zealand, Canadian, British, Indian and various African Colonial units in the Boer War with over 1000 paying the supreme sacrifice (our third highest casualties in war after the First and Second world wars).

The parade assembled at the lower forecourt of ANZAC Parade under parade commander Lieutenant Colonel (Retd) Don Hughes and his trusty sidekick - Zeus. The parade was led by the Rats of Tobruk Pipes and Drums followed by the Boer War re-enactment group. Flags and banners of the Victorian Boer War Association Victoria were then followed by distinguished guests including Scouts, Girl Guides and a strong contingent of descendants.

On reaching the Eternal Flame and the Cenotaph at midday, the service commenced. Lieu­ tenant Colonel (Retd) Neil Smith AM was the Master of Ceremonies. The Commemoration address was given by Major Arthur Gale DSD from the New Zealand Defence Force.

Some of the twenty-four distinguished guests who attended included: The Right Honourable Lord Baden-Powell and Lady Baden-Powell, The Hon Wendy Baden-Powell, John Kennedy MP for Hawthorn representing The Hon Shaun Leane Minister for Victorian Veterans, The Hon Nick Wakeling MP for Ferntree Gully, two Councillors Representing the City of Melbourne and one Councillor for the City of Port Phillip.

Major General Jim Barry AM MBE RFD ED (Retd) and Major General Jeffrey Rosenfeld AC OBE were also in attendance. Colonel Jan McCarthy ARRC (Retd), a Vietnam War Army Nursing Matron, recited the poem With French to Kimberley, and Dr Robert Webster OAM, the State President of the Victorian RSL, The Ode.

Inviting the Victorian President of the Royal Australian Engineers Association and their Mascot to be parade commander, was most appropriate. Although no formed Sapper units served in the Boer War, Don Hughes was the Australian Service Contingent Commander in Southern Africa (Mozambique) for Peacekeeping and Demining operations in 1994-1995. Zeus represented the multitude of animals that also made a significant contribution during the Boer War.

Major Arthur Gale DSD, a New Zealand Armoured Officer currently on a long-term posting at Puckapunyal, was awarded a Distinguished Service Decoration in Afghanistan.

Below is the address given by Major Arthur Gale DSD:

"I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are gathered. I pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and the Aboriginal Elders of other communities who may be here today.

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests.

The Boer War was a significant event in the history of Australia and New Zealand. It was the first full commitment by all the Australian Colonies to a foreign war and it was the first overseas conflict to involve New Zealand troops.

On the 28 September 1899, the New Zealand Parliament voted, overwhelmingly, in favour of offering Britain a contingent of mounted riflemen for service in South Africa against the Boers - two weeks before the Boer War was declared.

The First Contingent of New Zealand troops, under the command of then Major (Major General) Alfred Robin, reached South Africa on the 23 of November 1899.

Conditions of service for the troops were somewhat different to those experienced today. Volunteers were given minimal training and expected to provide their own horses and equipment, costing about £25 (in today's terms - $5,500 AUD).

New Zealand ultimately sent 10 contingents to South Africa, totalling 6,500 volunteer troops and 8,000 horses. Along with doctors, nurses, veterinary surgeons and a small number of school teachers. 71 New Zealanders were killed in action or died of wounds; 26 were accidentally killed, and 133 died of disease. They fought alongside soldiers from Australia, Canada, India, and the British colonies in South Africa.

One of these New Zealanders was a Wellington man named William James Hardham; the son of George Hardham, a labourer, and his wife, Ann Gregory. A blacksmith by trade, William Hardham was also a talented rugby player who represented Wellington. About 175 cm tall and weighing only 76 kgs, described as a 'fast dashing forward, full of go from kick-off to cease play'.

Hardham began his military career in the 1890s and in March 1900 enlisted as a farrier sergeant in the Fourth Contingent, known as the Rough Riders, most of which were horsemen and marksmen. He arrived in South Africa in May and saw a considerable amount of action. Near Naauwpoort in Transvaal, on the 28th of January 1901, a patrol of New Zealanders {including Hardham) was ambushed by a Boer force. As the New Zealanders began to withdraw, Trooper John McRae was wounded, and his horse killed. Hardham, under heavy fire, at once went to his assistance. He placed McRae on his own horse and ran alongside until he had guided him to safety.

For this act of conspicuous gallantry, Hardham was the first New Zealander to be awarded the Victoria Cross the only New Zealander so honoured in the South African War.

After he returned to New Zealand Hardham continued to play rugby for Wellington and became heavily involved in rugby administration. He served on the management committee of the Wellington Rugby Football Union and became a life member. He is remembered in a senior club trophy, the Hardham Cup.

Hardham saw further military service in the First World War as a captain in the Wellington Mounted Rifles. He was sent to Gallipoli where he was severely wounded; a comrade who came to his aid was fatally wounded. While convalescing in Wellington, Hardham married Constance Evelyn Parsonson; they were to have no children. Determined to return to active service and, after securing the necessary medical clearance, he served with the Wellington Mounted Rifles again, this time in Palestine between April and October 1918 where he was promoted to major.

After contracting malaria, Hardham was returned to New Zealand. Because of the effects of his wounds and illness he could not resume working as a blacksmith and had to find less physically demanding employment. During the difficult years following the war he worked to promote the interests of returned soldiers. He was closely associated with the Wellington Returned Soldiers' Association and was for a time the club manager. As a member of the Wellington Citizens' War Memorial Committee, he helped organise the annual ANZAC Day commemorations.

On the 13 April 1928, William Hardham died at his home in Wellington; aged 51, survived by his wife.

William Hardham was a quiet, modest man (initially reluctant to wear his Victoria Cross on official occasions). He was a popular and much respected soldier and sportsman who put service to others before self-interest. It was said of him that his ideals were high, his work splendid, and although he has crossed the last goal line his spirit still lives.'

During the Boer War, selfless acts like that of William Hardham were also displayed by Australians Frederick Bell, John Bisdee, Neville Howse, Leslie Maygar, James Rogers, Guy Wylly and undoubtedly many others from Australia, New Zealand and other British colonies who were not formally recognised in the same way. Australia and New Zealand's troops went to South Africa under similar conditions and circumstances. A truth that would play out many times as the history of our nations would unfold. We share similar values and a relationship unlike any other. When faced with adversity we have risen to the challenge and in many cases stood, quite literally, side by side.

Today we remember all soldiers, who have lost their lives, were injured, wounded, or returned. Many of whom share the same character and spirit as Major William James Hardham, VC.

Lest we Forget

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